I am totally excited to be winding down (ha!) my summer as an “ambassador” for the North Carolina Digital Learning Competencies! For eight days across two weeks, approximately twenty-five NC educators are touring the state to provide opportunities for teachers and teacher leaders to familiarize themselves with the competencies and the instructional resources and practices that accompany their implementation.
As we move into the “full implementation” phase of this initiative in 2017-2018, it will be imperative for teachers and administrators to understand all that these competencies encompass. They go so much further than just asking students and/or teachers to “use a device”! They are comprehensive, and if used as intended, they hold the power to truly “change how we do business” for the benefit of our learners.
So, as I “live” these competencies for the next few weeks (and months…and years…), it makes sense for me to address them through my monthly blog, as well. Therefore, consider this to be the first in a series of four posts – one devoted to each of the “Focus Areas” of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers.
The first Focus Area described in the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers is called, “Leadership in Digital Learning”. While there are several indicators listed for this Focus Area, I will be sharing my thoughts around the indicator that states, “Take initiative with own professional growth to inform practice”. This statement is so important, and clearly not as obvious as I may have thought at one point. Teachers are busy – in both their personal and professional lives – and when they are able to work outside of school hours, it tends to be on tasks needed for the next school day or school week – not on long-term growth plans. Although educators earn a college degree and often seek additional degrees and licenses, there is no program that could possibly teach a teacher everything he/she needs to know about content, pedagogy, and digital resources. When I have spoken with teachers in my district about what learning opportunities they have engaged in as educators, they usually can only name the initiatives that their individual schools or that our district have undertaken. Sometimes they do not seem to have even considered that they can or that they are expected to “take initiative with their own professional growth”! So here are a few steps that a teacher can take to work towards implementation of the “Leadership in Digital Learning” Focus Area of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for Classroom Teachers:
- Step 1: Seek
- Step 2: Collaborate
- Step 3: Plan
- Step 4: Implement
Step 1: Seek
The first step teachers must take to grow professionally is to seek information. This information may be about a specific content area, instructional practice, and/or digital tool. Blogs and books are tools for “information seekers”. These sources allow teachers to begin their learning process by identifying an area of need or interest, and then giving them the freedom to read independently, considering the new idea(s), processing unfamiliar lines of thought, and imagining what implementation could look like.
Step 2: Collaborate
Once a teacher has had an opportunity to independently process the new learning, it is time to collaborate! I believe Twitter and EdCamp are two great “locations” for this collaboration to occur! Twitter allows educators to reach out to other teachers and quickly find some who are engaged in the same learning “journey”. Ideas can be exchanged, examples provided, and questions answered quickly and easily through the anytime, anyplace environment. EdCamps are designed for teacher learners, as participants arrive and set the agenda for the day based on their current interests and needs. Collaboration is so important during this phase of the learning, as the teacher is clarifying his/her understanding, considering how to overcome potential challenges and maximize benefits, and, in some cases, working up the courage to step out of a comfort zone to try something new.
Step 3: Plan
Once a teacher has learned something new and collaborated around that learning, it is time to begin creating a solid plan of action! I believe the following questions can be useful at this stage of the process:
- What have I learned that will address a need that I/my students have?
- What have I learned that I have the tools/resources to implement?
- How will I make this idea work for me/my learners?
- What resources (human/material) will I need?
- What will success look like?
Notice that these questions force the focus to remain on student learning. Sometimes teachers get really excited about a new tool or activity or idea and lose the most important driver for change – improved student learning! The planning questions provided above can serve as a reminder that the teacher is seeking results that will appear through his/her students.
Step 4: Implement
Once a teacher has sought new information, collaborated around the information, and planned how to use the information, it is time for implementation! Although Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan may come to mind, there are some guiding questions for this stage of the process as well:
- What evidence of success do I have?
- How will I get feedback for reflection/evaluation/revision?
- What tweaks are necessary?
- When/with what content can I try this again?
- How/when/with whom will I share my learning?
The final question is especially important. Remember that we are seeking ways for teachers to demonstrate “Leadership in Digital Learning”. Each teacher has the power to serve as a catalyst for other teachers to begin their growth process. Sharing new learning (and the process that accompanied it) with other teachers is a necessary and fulfilling practice!
Any teacher who has sought information about teaching and learning, reached out to other educators to engage in collaboration, refined a purposeful plan for implementation, and engaged in reflection and revision has truly met the call to “take initiative with own professional growth to inform practice”! Celebrate these accomplishments – for yourself and for those with whom you work!